Tag Archives: HIV/AIDS

Why the future of the LGBT rights fight is international — in 20 tweets

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Though I wasn’t able to join The Atlantic‘s conference this week on the future of the LGBT civil rights fight, I took to Twitter earlier today to make that case that the future of the LGBT rights fights is largely international in character.

Without prejudice to the ongoing fights, legal and political, across the United States, I would argue the LGBT outlook should be much more global in 2015 — and as we look to the future and the kind of world we want to see in 2025 for both LGBT rights and human rights more generally. Continue reading Why the future of the LGBT rights fight is international — in 20 tweets

South Africa votes in 5th post-apartheid election: what you need to know

World Bank, South Africa 2007.

South Africans go to the polls for the fifth time in the post-apartheid era today in a race that the ruling African National Congress (ANC), the liberation movement that forced the end of minority white rule in 1994, is nearly guaranteed to win.south africa flag

South Africans will elect all 400 members of the National Assembly, by proportional representation on a closed-list basis (which may explain, in part, the hierarchical party strength of ANC governance). They will also elect governments in South Africa’s nine provinces.

Here’s the current breakdown:

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Notably, it’s the first election that will feature the ‘born-frees,’ the generation of South Africans who were born after the end of apartheid rule. Though they’re only 2.5% of the electorate today, they’ll become an increasingly vital demographic, and they might well change the face of South African politics over the next decade.

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RELATED: Even with victory assured, is the ANC’s future at risk? 

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Jacob Zuma, the president since 2009, is leading the ANC campaign, despite his relative unpopularity as South Africans face dwindling economic growth, rising unemployment and the sense that the ANC is more interested in maintaining — and abusing — power than attending to the pressing policy concerns of most South Africans. Zuma’s spending on ‘security improvements’ to his home at Nkandla has captured the widespread disgust of much of the electorate. His government’s handling of a mining strike at Marikana two years ago ended with a clash with police that killed 44 people in the worst state-sponsored violence since the apartheid era. The fallout has severely strained the so-called tripartite alliance among the ANC, the Communist Party of South Africa and the Congress of South African Trade Union (COSATU).

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RELATED: Zuma is strongest president on HIV/AIDS in South African history

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Notwithstanding those concerns, the ANC is almost assured of victory, thanks to its role as the liberation movement that ended apartheid under the mythic leadership of former president Nelson Mandela, who died late last December. The biggest question is whether the ANC will achieve the support of at least two-thirds of the electorate — it could win just 60% (or even less) of the vote.

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RELATED: How Nelson Mandela’s death provides South Africa a challenge and an opportunity

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The chief opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), seems set to increase its support to a historically high level, possibly more than 20% or even 25%. Continue reading South Africa votes in 5th post-apartheid election: what you need to know

Zuma is strongest president on HIV/AIDS in South African history

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When Jacob Zuma, now poised for an almost certain second term as South Africa’s president, faced criminal rape charges in 2006 stemming from sexual relations with a woman that he knew to be HIV positive, he later remarked that he didn’t use a condom and claimed that he took a shower afterwards to reduce the risk of contracting HIV. south africa flag

So when he emerged in 2007 as the heir apparent in the ruling African National Congress (ANC), there wasn’t much hope that Zuma would necessarily bring an incredible amount of sophistication to HIV/AIDS policy in a country that’s long suffered from health policy failures.

Yet almost immediately after becoming the country’s third post-apartheid president in 2009, Zuma effected nearly a 180-degree turn on HIV/AIDS policy. There was little doubt that his HIV/AIDS policy could be any worse than that of his predecessors.

Notwithstanding the triumph of Nelson Mandela’s historic presidency, Mandela himself admitted in the 2000s that he didn’t do enough to acknowledge the growing threat of HIV/AIDS infection, which would ultimately kill Mandela’s youngest son Makgatho, a fact that Mandela made public upon his son’s death in 2005.

His successor, Thabo Mbeki, was even worse. A proponent of aberrant medical theories that HIV, in fact, might not cause AIDS, Mbeki stalled as the rest of sub-Saharan Africa embraced new treatments and prevention strategies, leading to what some studies claim to be over 300,000 premature deaths in South Africa.

South Africa, like the rest of southern Africa, has one of the world’s highest HIV/AIDS rates. Like many issues in South Africa, race plays a significant role — a recent survey showed that the HIV rate among black Africans is around 15%, with a 3% rate among the ‘coloured’ (the South African term for mixed-race persons) population and a 0.3% rate for whites. The highest risk is for black females, aged 15 to 49, who are affected at a rate of 23.2%.

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RELATEDEven with victory assured, is the ANC’s future at risk?

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Zuma is almost certain to be reelected as president after the May 7 parliamentary elections that will, once again, return the ruling ANC to power.  But amid widespread unhappiness over South Africa’s economic performance and its government’s record on everything from individual rights to corruption, Zuma’s policy turn on HIV/AIDS could ultimately become the strongest policy accomplishment of an otherwise disappointing presidency.   Continue reading Zuma is strongest president on HIV/AIDS in South African history

How Nelson Mandela’s death provides South Africa a challenge and an opportunity

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No one could have filled the shoes of Nelson Mandela, the first president of post-apartheid South Africa — not that either of his successors in recent years tried particularly hard to do so. south africa flag

Thabo Mbeki (pictured above, right, with Mandela), who served as Mandela’s competent executive during Mandela’s term as South African president between 1994 and 1999, became known during his own decade in office as the world leader who refused to admit the connection between HIV and AIDS long after the scientific community established that the human immunodeficiency virus is the proximate cause of AIDS.

Jacob Zuma (pictured above, left, with Mandela), who followed Mbeki into the presidency after the 2009 general election, came to power virtually synonymous with illegality after surviving criminal charges for rape and for corruption in the mid-2000s.  Mbeki himself was forced to resign in September 2008 as president because of allegations that he interfered in the judicial process on behalf of Zuma.

With a general election due in spring 2014, however, Mandela’s death presents both an opportunity and a challenge to South African politics.  Mandela’s absence means that the space is once again open for a South African leader to inspire the entire nation without facing the inevitable comparison to one of the world’s most beloved figures.  But it also marks the end of post-apartheid South Africa’s honeymoon, and so Mandela’s passing also represents a challenge to the new generation of political leadership — to dare to bring the same level of audacious change to South Africa that Mandela did.  Nothing less will be required of South Africa’s leaders to keep the country united and prosperous in the decades to come — to ensure that South Africa continues to be, as Mandela memorably stated in his 1994 inaugural address, ‘a rainbow nation, at peace with itself and the world.’

South Africa today remains the jewel of sub-Saharan Africa, in both humanitarian and economic terms.  Mandela’s release from prison and the largely peaceful negotiation of the end of apartheid in Africa alongside F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s president from 1989 to 1994, rank among the most memorable events of the 20th century.  The constitution that Mandela helped to enact in 1996 is one of the world’s most progressive in terms of human rights — it purports to grant every South African the right to human dignity, to health care and water, to work, to a basic education, to housing.  Even if the rights promulgated in the South African constitution today remain more aspirational than functional, the constitution was pathbreaking in it breadth.  It’s notable that in 2006, South Africa became the fifth country in the world to allow same-sex marriage.

With an economy of $579 billion (on a PPP basis, as of 2012, according to the International Monetary Fund), South Africa has the largest economy on the entire African continent, despite the fact that its population of 53 million is dwarfed by the populations of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (67.5 million), Ethiopia (86.6 million) and Nigeria (a staggering 173.6 million).

Its GDP per capita of $11,281 (again on a PPP basis and as determined by the IMF as of 2012) is exceeded in sub-Saharan Africa only by oil-rich Gabon ($18,501) and tourism hotspot Botswana ($15,706), and it far outpaces the fourth-ranked Namibia ($7,500) and the fifth-ranked Angola ($6,092), another petrostrate.  Even that understates South Africa’s economic dominance, because both the Botswanan and Namibian economies have flourished in large part due to trade with the South African economy.

But that doesn’t mean all is perfectly well.  Nigeria seems likely to outpace South Africa to become the largest sub-Saharan African economy soon, if it hasn’t already.  Despite its status as Africa’s economic powerhouse, South Africa suffered its first post-apartheid recession in 2009, and the recovery hasn’t been particularly strong.  South African GDP grew just 2.2% last year and growth remained sluggish this year, too. Unemployment is creeping downward, but it’s still a whopping 24.7% as of the third quarter of 2013.  Different studies make it difficult to know whether poverty is rising or declining, but wealth among South African whites is massively higher than wealth among South African blacks, and income inequality is rising sharply in South Africa (as in much of the rest of the world).

Clashes between miners and South African police during last summer’s Marikana strike left 34 people dead, shocking both South Africa and the world with the kind of violent images that hadn’t been seen in South Africa since the apartheid era.

With an estimated HIV/AIDS rate of 17.5%, South Africa has the world’s fourth-highest HIV prevalence after neighboring Swaziland, Lesotho and Botswana.  Though we now recognize Mandela as one of the world’s most prodigious activists in the campaign against HIV/AIDS, the issue wasn’t at the top of his agenda as president, a failing that Mandela acknowledged after leaving office.  In retirement, however, Mandela took up the cause with vigor (especially after his own son Makgatho died from AIDS complications in 2005).  His forceful push at the 2000 AIDS conference in Durban muted the criticisms of the Mbeki government and paved the way for greater treatment options for all Africans, including South Africans.  But the much-delayed fight against HIV/AIDS represents one of the starkest failures of post-apartheid South Africa. Continue reading How Nelson Mandela’s death provides South Africa a challenge and an opportunity

Remembering Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

Guest post by Andrew J. Novak

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Nelson Mandela, who achieved nearly mythical status as the first post-apartheid president of South Africa, received the name ‘Nelson’ from his teacher Miss Mdingane on his first day of primary school in a small village in the Eastern Cape, as part of a custom at the time of providing African children with Christian names. south africa flag

Before that he was known by his birth name Rolihlahla, ‘troublemaker’ in colloquial isiXhosa, which appears now in retrospect both endearing and prescient. Formal isiXhosa uses clan name as an honorific, referring to a family’s ancestor; Mandela’s was Madiba, the name of a chief who ruled in Transkei in the 18th century.  When he completed his traditional initiation rites of manhood at age sixteen, Mandela was given the name Dalibhunga, ‘convener of the dialogue,’ another name that seems strangely appropriate decades later.  Later in life, he would be known as Tata (father) and Khulu (grandfather) by many South Africans regardless of their own age, as patriarch of a new multiracial democracy.  He was Papa to his third wife Graça Machel, the former first lady of Mozambique, whose life, like his, bore the rugged scars of a nation struggling for independence.

Perhaps the name that most defined his life’s eventual course was a fake one: David Motsamayi, a name he assumed to secretly leave South Africa in 1962 to travel across the continent raising the international profile of the African National Congress (ANC).  He received military training in Morocco and Ethiopia and raised money from the political leaders of several North and West African countries before traveling to London where he met with anti-apartheid activists and reporters.  Upon his return to South Africa, he was arrested at a police roadblock and placed on trial for inciting workers’ strikes and leaving the country illegally.  He was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison in Pretoria before the police uncovered evidence of his role in the founding of the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, Spear of the Nation.

In the famous Rivonia trial, he was convicted of four counts of sabotage and conspiracy to violently overthrow the government and sentenced to life imprisonment.  For the next eighteen years of his life, he lived in a small cell on Robben Island until a journalist’s slogan ‘Free Mandela’ started an international campaign that culminated in a UN Security Council resolution and his eventual transfer to the relative comfort of two mainland prisons.  On the brink of a low-intensity civil war for the next ten years, the South Africa outside Mandela’s cell had changed, and, on February 11, 1990, he was released from prison on live television.

Despite his early legal training and the 1952 establishment of Mandela & Tambo, the country’s first black-African owned law firm, Mandela did not receive his law degree until he completed his correspondence courses in his last months in prison.  Nonetheless, Mandela the lawyer contributed more to development of the rule of law in South Africa than any other person in modern times.  In negotiations at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa from 1991 to 1992, he and South African President F.W. de Klerk succeeded in drafting an interim constitution with the strong separation of powers and a bill of rights.  They also established a timetable for multiracial elections and agreed on the structure of a government of national unity, a process that jointly won them the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.  The new constitution of South Africa, one of the most progressive in the world, entered into force in May 1996.

Though his successor, Thabo Mbeki, was a more experienced administrator, Mandela provided the moral leadership that South Africa needed in its democratic transition during his five-year term as president.  Mandela the reconciler oversaw the establishment of a truth commission with Archbishop Desmond Tutu as chair to investigate crimes committed under apartheid by both sides.  He tackled the huge disparity in wealth, ending discrimination in social services and helping build national infrastructure: by 1999, housing for three million people had been constructed; three million people were connected to telephone lines and clean water, and two million to the electricity grid; 1.5 million children were enrolled in the education system for the first time; and 500 health clinics were upgraded.

In retirement, Mandela devoted himself to HIV/AIDS activism through his foundation, supporting the protests to provide free anti-retroviral drugs to poor South Africans and allow the government to purchase generics produced in Brazil, India, and Thailand.  In the years that followed, he spoke out against the war in Iraq and Mugabe’s continued rule in Zimbabwe, and in favor of South Africa’s 2010 World Cup bid.  He had largely retreated from public life by 2004, but his internation